Wise Words in “Amoris Laetitia”: Part 4

There is much wisdom to be found in Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia” (“The Joy of Love”), but at over 200 pages long it’s not always easy to pick out the wise words from all the prose. This project sifts through the wisdom Pope Francis has provided for us in this document. Each part of this project contains quotes (in italic font) from Amoris Laetitia that I believe contain wise words. Each quote is accompanied by a few of my own words (in normal font) to shed light on that wisdom.

I encourage everyone to read Amoris Laetitia for themselves. You can download a free copy from the Vatican website. For those that haven’t read it, this list of quotes can serve as an index to skip to just the most important parts of the document. For those that have already read it, my commentary accompanying each quote can supplement or reinforce what you read before.

Headings indicate the main section or chapter in Amoris Laetitia that a list of quotes comes from. Quotes are numbered according to the paragraph they come from in Amoris Laetitia. If multiple quotes come from the same paragraph, I add a dash and a number for clarification (e.g. 5-1, 5-2). Some paragraphs are skipped because they summarize other parts of the document or feature more common knowledge most people will already know.

Chapter 2: The Experiences and Challenges of Families (continued)

39 “We treat affective relationships the way we treat material objects and the environment: everything is disposable; everyone uses and throws away, takes and breaks, exploits and squeezes to the last drop. Then, goodbye.”

These words pretty much stand on their own. I can only add that loving relationships are give and take. Relationships based on what each person gets out of the other do not last.

40-1 “At the risk of oversimplifying, we might say that we live in a culture which pressures young people not to start a family, because they lack possibilities for the future. Yet this same culture presents others with so many options that they too are dissuaded from starting a family.”

These are two separate problems. When money is the problem, there is no option to marry. When the finances are okay, another problem emerges: too many potential marriage partners. As far as money, two obstacles to successful marriages and families are the high price of housing and lack of quality employment (see 44-1 and 44-2 below). Many young people choose to remain single because they can barely support themselves let alone a family with children.

As far as too many options, dating websites and apps have become so advanced, a person can be meeting a new person every day of the week. Knowing they can only make a lifetime commitment to one person, there is a great fear they will choose a person today only to find a better person tomorrow. They can get into a yearslong cycle of dating and never take the next step to marry.

40-2 “We need to find the right language, arguments and forms of witness that can help us reach the hearts of young people, appealing to their capacity for generosity, commitment, love and even heroism, and in this way inviting them to take up the challenge of marriage with enthusiasm and courage.”

This statement simply elaborates on 2-1 in Part 1.

41 “Marital problems are ‘often confronted in haste and without the courage to have patience and reflect, to make sacrifices and to forgive one another.'”

See my commentary for 38-1 in Part 3.

43 “The Synod Fathers noted that “one symptom of the great poverty of contemporary culture is loneliness, arising from the absence of God in a person’s life and the fragility of relationships.”

No matter what the problems are, they usually go back to a lack of religion. When people are not religious, it is hard to live a life of selflessness and love towards others. Religion provides the primary incentive to do good throughout every moment of life, not just when the person feels like it. The more selfish people there are, the more suffering people don’t get the help they need. Then some of those people become selfish themselves, leading to more selfishness in the community as a whole. It just spreads through culture until large portions of the population never think to help others and even make fun of the misfortune of others.

This is evident simply walking down the street. No one talks to each other. They keep their head down, eyes on their phone, not saying a single word to each other. There’s very little sense of community. Despite the streets being full of people, everyone is a stranger, all focused on their own individual goals. There’s a phrase relating to this: “living alone together”. People have a lot of others around them, but each is doing their own thing. It’s no wonder people are lonely. If everyone lived a life of sacrifice for others, there would be no loneliness. We can each do our part, but the ideal of no loneliness is something that we will mostly have to wait for heaven to see.

44-1 “The lack of dignified or affordable housing often leads to the postponement of formal relationships.”

There is a worry about the reduction in the number of marriages these days compared to the past. One of the causes is the high cost of housing. Housing has always been a big obstacle to marriage and the family, but it’s much worse these days. In most parts of the country, the couple has to at least make the median income to afford a house. In other words, 30-40% of the population cannot afford a house. The number is even higher for young people. In many places, even apartment rents are too high. They either have to live with roommates or parents. Marriage is usually not an option in that situation.

The problem is clear, but the solution is not. This is where the government and academic community can help. They should study what’s causing high housing prices and what’s keeping wages low relative to those prices. Only then can solutions be proposed. Are investment companies overcharging for housing? Then maybe price caps have to be temporarily implemented. Are businesses artificially keeping wages low for extra profit? Then maybe the minimum wage has to be temporarily increased. The causes are likely more complex than this, but something must be done or else population decline and an endless cycle of economic hardship will break the country apart.

44-2 “Workdays are long and oftentimes made more burdensome by extended periods away from home. This situation does not help family members to gather together or parents to be with their children in such a way as to nurture their relationships each day.”

Even when a family can afford housing, it usually requires both parents to be working, many times for long hours. This forces them to put their children in daycare, another huge cost for the family to bear. Furthermore, the parents aren’t getting to spend much time with their children. When they get home from work, they are so tired, they can barely keep up with the basic chores let alone be an active presence in their children’s lives.

45 “A great number of children are born outside of wedlock, many of whom subsequently grow up with just one of their parents or in a blended or reconstituted family”

The big problem in America is unstable families. The economy plays a part — life is always more secure when families can pay their bills comfortably — but the bigger problem is when parents are not dedicated to their children. For too many parents children are an accident that they only begrudgingly raise. I see this especially with new fathers, who do nothing but complain about their children. If the parents don’t care, the children will probably not do well.

Studies have shown that children have the best chance of success when they have both a mother and a father to learn from. Cohabitation many times leads to single parents, at least one parent has no commitment to the children. Same-sex couples can only provide two mothers or two fathers. Both the popular lifestyle (cohabitation) and another lifestyle with popular support (gay marriage) lead to unstable families and children that aren’t well-rounded.

This isn’t to say that children raised by cohabitating or gay couples cannot turn out well, but it’s much harder. It’s clear that most times children will do better when raised in a stable household with a mother and father, so there should never be any consideration for raising children outside that situation. Accidents can happen and couples have to do the best they can, but society should never encourage behavior that potentially harms children in the long run. Cohabitation and gay marriage both carry this potential.

46-1 “In accompanying migrants, the Church needs a specific pastoral programme addressed not only to families that migrate but also to those family members who remain behind.”

This is a much bigger problem for Europe than the United States, but it still would be a good exercise to think about how we would address this if it became a large problem here. When people move to a new place, they have the basic needs of food, water, clothing, and shelter, but the critical element is integration into the community. Many terrorists have become radicalized because they never adopted the culture of their new country. Instead, radical groups create that sense of community by actively seeking out lonely or isolated people and slowly swaying them towards evil.

As an example, here is one way to integrate Syrian refugees. The Church (along with government and charities) could foster connections between Syrians that migrated years ago and Syrians that just migrated a week ago. Veteran migrants have lots of experience in the new place that would really help the new migrants. In addition they speak the same language and might even have the same religion. Once the new migrants have integrated with fellow immigrants in the new country, the Church can aid them with integration into the wider community of the nation, perhaps by connecting the new family to Catholic families that could introduce them to the wider culture (e.g. sports, barbeques, and holidays).

46-2 “The persecution of Christians and ethnic and religious minorities in many parts of the world, especially in the Middle East, are a great trial not only for the Church but also the entire international community.”

There has and always will be persecution against Christians, but it seems to have worsened in recent years. In the Middle East, religious extremists are fighting Christianity. In the West, atheist extremists are fighting Christianity. Things are not nearly as bad here than the Middle East, but the trend is still negative. We are going in the direction of greater persecution, where Catholics and the Church are under more and more restrictions. There are entire organizations devoted to eradicating every last vestige of Christianity from our culture. If this continues long enough, the Catholic Church will be forced to go underground like during Roman times. We will have regressed 2000 years. No doubt the Enemy rejoices at the thought. We may not be able to stop this from happening, but we have to continuing resisting the hostility with peace, hope, and most of all, love.

Read the other parts:

May the Lord guide you on your faith journey,


Movie Thoughts: Restless Heart: The Confessions of St. Augustine

Restless Heart: The Confessions of St. Augustine is a 2010 Italian film directed by Christian Duguay and starring Alessandro Preziosi and Franco Nero as young and old Augustine. I watched this film on formed.org. The English version was published by Ignatius Press. They did a pretty good job with the dubbing because I didn’t notice until I saw “English Voice Cast” in the credits. The film is a little over 2 hours long. I could tell this movie had a bigger budget than most Catholic films. The props and special effects were pretty good. The acting was also good in most scenes, though a few scenes could have been better.

Restless Heart tells the story of St. Augustine. As part of showing his life, the movie has several key parts in Augustine’s life where he chose between God and evil. These were the parts I found the most interesting. Early in Augustine’s life, he was a successful lawyer. He didn’t care if the people he defended were guilty or not, he was in it for the money, power, and women that winning in court brought him. After a man he obtained acquittal of attempted murder ended up actually carrying out the murder later, Augustine was shaken and chose God.

Augustine took a break from work and returned home, along with his mistress who he had a child with. For a time he was pleased with family life. Given enough time, he may have married the mistress and lived a simple, yet holy life. Unfortunately, Augustine was tempted by a friend who invited him to apply for a prestigious position in Milan as the emperor’s official orator. Augustine’s dreams of fame and power got the better of him. He chose evil and left family life behind, but it wasn’t over yet.

In Milan, Augustine met another gifted orator, St. Ambrose. Over time, Ambrose’s sermons convinced Augustine that there was some truth to the Christian faith. After his mistress left him he attempted to satisfy his need for love with another mistress, but it didn’t help. He found that only God’s love could satisfy him. This was the critical moment of his life. In early times, he went back and forth for God and against God, but this decision was final. He chose God and never went back. There was much more in the movie, but these were the parts I found most interesting.

Restless Heart was a pretty entertaining movie. It kept me on the edge of my seat the whole time. It was really interesting seeing how Augustine justified his sins and how he wavered between good and evil. One bad thing is that the writers seemed to take some liberties with the history. Some events happened differently in the movie compared to what I read before. I always prefer sticking with history even if it makes the story less entertaining, but they got the overall theme right. Augustine’s life was an internal battle between good and evil in his heart, and the movie captured that perfectly.

The internal battle between good and evil is actually the case for all people, not just Augustine. The battle does not end until we die. Those that let evil win go to hell. Those that have enough good in them go to heaven. That’s why looking at Augustine’s life is so interesting. We get to see how a saint fought this battle and won. In my case, I have found my success at doing good to be dependent on my relationship with God. The closer I am to God, the better I can fight evil. As a result, much of my studies and efforts are on improving my relationship with God. I expect to be working on this the rest of my life. To take a break would let evil slowly intrude on my life again.

Movie Thoughts: Joseph of Nazareth

Joseph of Nazareth is a 2000 Italian film directed by Raffaele Mertes and Elisabetta Marchetti and starring Tobias Moretti as Joseph and Stefania Rivi as Mary. Despite being made by Italians, it appears the movie was in English. There were no subtitles, and I didn’t see any clear signs of dubbing. I watched this film on the formed.org website. There are many movies about Mary, but not many about Joseph. I thought it would be nice to see things from Joseph’s perspective. Well, there isn’t a whole lot about Joseph in the Bible.

Some saints have written about Joseph based on private revelation, but there’s not a whole lot of official history on Joseph. Making a whole movie about him is understandably difficult. The writers had to fill in a lot of blanks. As a result, many scenes in the movie are more speculative than actual truth. They could be true, but they could easily be fictional.

Joseph of Nazareth covers everything in the Bible: Joseph’s betrothal to Mary, Mary’s acceptance of God’s plan to conceive Jesus in her womb, Joseph’s intention to quietly divorce Mary after finding her with child, Joseph’s acceptance of God’s plan after hearing from the angel, Jesus’ birth in a manger in Bethlehem, the shepherds and Three Kings adoring Jesus and offering gifts, Herod’s effort to kill the Messiah with the massacre of all young males, Joseph, Mary, and Jesus’ flight to Egypt, their return after Herod’s death, the presentation of Jesus in the temple, and the losing of Jesus and later finding of him in the temple.

As far as the speculative or fictional content, Joseph of Nazareth posits that Nazareth was attacked at some point, resulting in the death of Joseph’s wife as well as brothers and sisters. Joseph took on 3 nephews to raise them in place of their parents. These nephews were Jesus’ “brothers” in the Bible, though they all become adults and left before the birth of Jesus. In the story, Joseph is a master carpenter who is employed by King Herod on several occasions. It is during one of these times as Joseph is leaving for Jerusalem that Mary becomes pregnant with Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. When Joseph returns he is understandably upset to find her with child. Another addition to the story is when Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus’ are heading to Egypt only to find Herod’s guards preventing young males from leaving. Mary crosses alone while Joseph, carrying the baby Jesus, secretly crosses the rugged mountains before meeting up with Mary on the other side.

I don’t mind fictional content if it fits with the existing story in the Bible; however, I was disappointed to find some of the content in Joseph of Nazareth to not fit with what we believe in the Catholic faith. In disagreement with common Catholic teaching, the film depicted Mary in labor pains. Catholics believe labor pains are one of the effects of original sin. Because Mary was born without sin, even original sin, we believe she gave birth with no pain. The scene in the film doesn’t agree with this. A related example is the movie showing Jesus crying after birth. Catholics generally believe that since Mary felt no pain, Jesus felt no pain either. He probably wouldn’t be crying. He would be at peace with his mother.

In some cases, Joseph of Nazareth didn’t even agree with the Bible. For example, the Bible speaks of the angel visiting Mary, but in the movie there is no angel. Mary hears the words of the angel but sees nothing. I guess this could be one way to interpret the Bible, but it seems natural that if an angel visited Mary, she would see that angel. Another example is how the movie showed Joseph not being with Mary when she gave birth. If Mary was in labor pains, I don’t think Joseph would have left her side. Also, the movie never shows Joseph showing any affection towards Mary. As far as I remember, he never hugged her or said a comforting word the whole film. The Joseph in the film just doesn’t fit the Joseph in the Bible to me.

Lastly, some scenes in the film don’t seem to fit the historical period either. For example, in a few scenes Mary was depicted as traveling on her own. During that time in history, the roads were not safe. Men didn’t travel alone, let alone women, yet a few scenes showed Mary travelling alone by donkey. At the minimum, she would have had Joseph with her, but probably she would have travelled with a caravan for safety. The movie does show this once when Mary and Joseph are leaving Jerusalem and later realize Jesus is not with them. I can remember two other scenes where Mary travelled alone though, most clearly when she visited Elizabeth.

Despite these inaccuracies, Joseph of Nazareth was an entertaining film. It didn’t cost me anything to watch, so it was worth the time I spent watching. I wish it stuck more to the Bible, Catholic traditions, and historical accuracy, but it was better than nothing. I wouldn’t use the film as a source for studying Joseph though. Documentaries and books would probably do a much better job. I think there are more conclusions that can be drawn about Joseph based on the Bible if combined with logical and historical arguments, but nothing of that sort will be found in a drama film.

Video Game Thoughts: Kirby and the Rainbow Curse

Kirby and the Rainbow Curse is a 2015 platforming game for the Nintendo Wii U by Hal Laboratory and Nintendo. In the story, all the colors in Kirby’s world are sucked away by a mysterious beam that appears out of a hole in the sky. Elline, a paintbrush character, appears to explain that her friend, Claycia, somehow became evil and stole all the color. Kirby has his mission to defeat Claycia and return color to his world. Nintendo always likes to try something new with their games. This game does this in two ways: artstyle and gameplay.

Much like other recent Nintendo games, all the graphics have a theme to them. In Rainbow Curse, the theme is clay. Virtually everything is made out of clay from Kirby himself to the backgrounds to the enemies. It’s a similar idea to Kirby’s Epic Yarn (everything made of yarn) and Yoshi’s Woolly World (everything made of wool). The concept is not original, but I enjoyed seeing how they translated everything into clay. Most objects have a lumpy look to them and the animations are suitably clay-like. Because I’ve already seen this before, it wasn’t all that impressive, but it’s nice when games have a handmade touch to them.

The new thing in gameplay is that the entire game is played with the stylus rather than traditional button controls. Kirby automatically moves slowly until he hits a wall, then reverses direction. Tapping Kirby with the stylus causes him to do a spin attack to defeat enemies or just move faster. Lastly, the player can draw a rainbow rope on the screen with the stylus. If Kirby is nearby he will follow the rope. In this way, the player can draw elaborate paths over the screen to have Kirby collect stars and other collectibles.

There are some unique mechanics created by the touch controls. If the player draws a little loop with the rope, Kirby will gain a short speed increase. The direction the rope is drawn determines the direction Kirby goes when he touches it. The rope can also block bullets, lasers, and other hazards towards Kirby. This added a lot of skill to the controls that I only got the hang of in the last few levels.

The touch controls come with some downsides. Pressing a button is very easy, but drawing is not a universal skill. This meant the developers had to make the game easier than most platformers. While there are some quick parts, most of the game is pretty slow paced, giving the player maximum time to draw a good shape. Along with this, levels have no time limit. The player can many times take as long as they want to explore each level.

When Kirby loses a life, he gets to continue from the last door he exited. Most levels have several of these rooms with an entrance and exit door, meaning the player never has to do too much backtracking if Kirby dies. Also, if Kirby loses a lot of lives in the same level, the game has an option to skip that level without finishing it. The later levels have some annoying instant death scenarios, but they liberally placed extra life power-ups all over to compensate. I didn’t really like that they made the game easier than most platformers, but I agree that it was necessary. The controls would have been too frustrating otherwise.

As far as the traditional platforming, I really enjoyed the environmental mechanics and unique enemies in Kirby and the Rainbow Curse. I had not seen these in other platforming games. I think they did a good job adding new things in each level. The only bad thing here is that there weren’t that many levels to play through. I don’t know if they ran out of time or the budget for this game just wasn’t that much to start with, but there are only 7 “worlds” with 4 levels each. That’s a total of 28 levels in Story Mode. A total of 7 worlds isn’t that bad, but 6 to 8 levels each would be more typical for a platformer. Just beating the game only took me around 10 hours, but there are other optional things to do.

Each level has several collectibles including a cute diary entry from Elline, one of three medals (bronze, silver, gold) depending on how many stars were collected in that level, and five treasure chests that award figurines of characters for close examination or music tracks to listen to in the music player. To get all these collectibles easily adds another 10 hours to the game. In addition, while playing through the story, challenges are unlocked.

Challenge Mode is the second gameplay mode in Rainbow Curse. There are two kinds: One-Minute Challenges and Survival Challenges. One-Minute Challenges contain 4 little puzzle rooms. Solving the puzzle unlocks a treasure chest. Unlike the treasure chests in Story Mode, these ones don’t contain anything. Each One-Minute Challenge has 4 treasure chests with medals awarded depending on how many the player gets.

Survival Challenges are much more difficult. They operate the same as One-Minute Challenges except there are 12 rooms with a treasure chest in each, and if you miss the treasure chest in one room, you don’t even get the chance to visit the later rooms. It’s a long gauntlet where perfect playing is required. There’s a lot of fun to be had here, but I do wish they had translated this work into more Story Mode levels. The Challenge Mode added another 10 hours to the game for a total of 30 hours to do everything in the game. There’s enough gameplay for the lower price Kirby and the Rainbow Curse sold for (around $40), but the length is not on par with most other platformers.

Kirby and the Rainbow Curse is one of my last Wii U games, so playing this game was bittersweet. This feeling kind of hampered my enjoyment of the game. I can see on paper that it’s a good game, but it also reminds me that I am moving on. I won’t be getting the new Switch console, for I am moving away from video games in general. I have a few unfinished games, but most of my free time now is focused on whatever God leads me to do. Right now he is leading me in a different direction, but things could always change in the future.

Wise Words in “Amoris Laetitia”: Part 3

There is much wisdom to be found in Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation “Amoris Laetitia” (“The Joy of Love”), but at over 200 pages long it’s not always easy to pick out the wise words from all the prose. This project sifts through the wisdom Pope Francis has provided for us in this document. Each part of this project contains quotes (in italic font) from Amoris Laetitia that I believe contain wise words. Each quote is accompanied by a few of my own words (in normal font) to shed light on that wisdom.

I encourage everyone to read Amoris Laetitia for themselves. You can download a free copy from the Vatican website. For those that haven’t read it, this list of quotes can serve as an index to skip to just the most important parts of the document. For those that have already read it, my commentary accompanying each quote can supplement or reinforce what you read before.

Headings indicate the main section or chapter in Amoris Laetitia that a list of quotes comes from. Quotes are numbered according to the paragraph they come from in Amoris Laetitia. If multiple quotes come from the same paragraph, I add a dash and a number for clarification (e.g. 5-1, 5-2). Some paragraphs are skipped because they summarize other parts of the document or feature more common knowledge most people will already know.

Chapter 1: The Light of the Word

27 Christ proposed as the distinctive sign of his disciples the law of love and the gift of self for others (cf. Mt 22:39; Jn 13:34).

I like to say this more boldly: true love is sacrifice. In the media we see many false forms of love, especially infatuation and romantic feelings. These are part of love but not the most important. Infatuation and romantic feelings come and go in a relationship. Any relationship based solely on feelings will not last. Conversely, a relationship based on sacrifice endures. This love is not limited to dating and marriage but should be present to some extent in all relationships. The world would be a better place if more people understood this and strove to live by it. Thankfully, there are a lot of good people out there that sacrifice for others, but there are many who never lift a finger for others or do so very sparingly.

28 There is a closeness that is conscious and not simply biological.

As humans we have both a spiritual side and a physical side, but the spiritual side is hard to sense because it is invisible to our physical senses. We do have a spiritual sense though, which is love. The deep love between mother and child is so great that many times the mother and child are completely at peace with each other. In these moments they have no need for words. It is a spiritual connection more than a physical one. This is also why connecting with God requires silence more than anything else. We cannot receive peace and guidance from God through prayer in the presence of noise and chaos. We must retreat from the world, whether that means praying in a quiet room or making a trip to some remote place. Refer to my commentary on 12-2 in Part 1 [LINK] for more on the silence of love.

Chapter 2: The Experiences and Challenges of Families

32 It is…evident that “the principal tendencies in anthropological-cultural changes” are leading “individuals, in personal and family life, to receive less and less support from social structures than in the past”.

These days, parents have to work so much they don’t have much time to spend with their children. They might also have to move far away for work, so they have a harder time getting help from their their parents or grandparents. This is one of the problems of the day that the Church needs to provide direction for. Our culture needs to transform in a way that the good behavior of parents serving their children is valued and promoted by every person and society as a whole. In addition to the Church, government and charities can also work towards this goal.

It’s important to realize that every period in history has good things and bad things. As bad as it is for families these days, there are other good things to be happy about. For example, a really good thing now is the acceptance of homeschooling. Whether by choice or out of necessity the option to homeschool allows parents to guarantee their children will be raised in a religious environment. The key challenge of every generation is maintaining the areas we have made positive change in while replacing or transforming the areas with negative change.

33 “The tensions created by an overly individualistic culture, caught up with possessions and pleasures, leads to intolerance and hostility in families”.

A few years back I started noticing a lot of problems in society all went back to the family. When a child grows up in a broken family, it greatly affects the decisions they will later make in life. When that takes hold on a grand scale over several generations, which is what’s currently happening in the West, it causes massive damage to society and even to the nation. If this problem is not addressed, the United States will collapse. There is no question. It might take a while, but it will happen eventually if we cannot turn things around.

So many children these days witness the suffering of another and make a crude remark like, “sucks to be you”. In many cases their behavior has devolved to that of an animal. They act on instinct and believe in survival of the fittest. This is not progress but regression. These children then grow up to create broken families which leads to more broken families. This cycle will not be broken until we can evangelize these people on the way of love. The way of love is the way of Jesus. The Catholic faith is emulating Jesus’ life.

One of the key parts of the Catholic faith is the Golden Rule: “treat others as you would want others to treat yourself”. Living by this rule forces you to imagine what it would be like in another person’s shoes which leads to understanding of others and ultimately selflessness. Without religion, many people don’t really have that driving goal to treat others well. There’s some direction from education and our laws, since these have their foundation in the Christian faith of our forefathers, but they are clearly not enough. People must believe in a religion of love for real change to happen.

34-1 [The family] can come to be seen as a way station, helpful when convenient, or a setting in which rights can be asserted while relationships are left to the changing winds of personal desire and circumstances.

So many times these days I see a family that rarely spends any time together. Each member is doing their own thing, barely helping each other. I don’t think parents ever set out to create a disconnected family. It’s something that just happens. Once everyone has gotten used to having their way, it’s very hard to get them to change. I think the key to change is starting small.

The parents, of course, have to come together and agree that the family needs to spend more time together. Then they can start a new practice like eating one meal together as a family each day. The children will definitely protest, but the parents must be persistent until the habit is formed. With one positive change implemented, the next can be started. A few years later the family may look totally different with everyone much closer to each other. Change is not easy, especially over the long run, but the increase in love and happiness within the family more than makes up for it.

34-2 The ideal of marriage, marked by a commitment to exclusivity and stability, is swept aside whenever it proves inconvenient or tiresome.

This is what happens when a married couple doesn’t have true love. True love is more than just the feeling of love. It’s the choice to be with someone through thick and thin for life. In the Catholic wedding vows, the Church calls on the bride and groom to accept that sacrifice: “I promise to be faithful to [you] in good times and in bad…all the days of [my] life.” See my commentary on 27 above for more information.

36 Nor have we always provided solid guidance to young married couples, understanding their timetables, their way of thinking and their concrete concerns.

It’s good that Pope Francis admits mistakes by the Church, mainly not supporting and guiding young people towards good, strong marriages. This was a huge problem in the past. I regularly see stories of Catholic couples who went into marriage with impossible expectations because they never received instruction on what marriage is supposed to be. It’s no surprise that many of them ended up divorcing a few decades later when the marriage became difficult.

These days most parishes at least require couples discerning marriage to do marriage preparation founded on Church teaching. This is an improvement, but waiting until couples are a few months from their wedding date is too late to make a real difference. Instead, much critical marriage teaching should be taught during the teenage years. Then marriage preparation would be a reinforcement of what the couple already knows plus a few discussions on more mature topics that would be inappropriate outside the engagement period.

Of course, we wouldn’t want to influence young people away from vocations of consecrated life and the priesthood, so the teaching during teenage years would need to cover all vocations. After all, every vocation is in decline these days, even marriage. Many parishes already have year long Confirmation programs, so why not a year long vocation program? The Church could recommend parents enroll their teenagers in this program in preparation for their futures. For engaged couples that didn’t take the program, the recommendation would be to take an adult version of the program the first year after marriage.

Support before marriage is only half of the equation though. Newly married couples also need support. Most parishes do have family activities, but they tend to be more about socializing than support. Newlyweds have to do a lot of the leg work finding experienced couples that are willing to support them through trials. It would be better if there was a more concerted effort to support newlyweds at the parish level. Some parishes already do well, but in others couples are only given a little marriage preparation and then left on their own. This would be a great opportunity for more experienced couples to volunteer to help new couples build the skills they need for successful marriages.

37 We also find it hard to make room for the consciences of the faithful, who very often respond as best they can to the Gospel amid their limitations, and are capable of carrying out their own discernment in complex situations.

This statement is potentially confusing. By saying people can form their consciences on their own, it appears Pope Francis is saying right and wrong is solely based on what their conscience tells them. This is not the case. He is actually saying that people can have many logical explanations for their sinful actions. They may be wrong in God’s eyes, but they make sense to the individual. Rather than throwing out that logic entirely, the Church should work with the individual to explain which parts of their logic are correct and which are incorrect. For anything that is incorrect, the Church can then provide the next small step towards holiness. Many small steps over time lead to many miles and eventually, complete transformation into the image of God.

Strong statements meant to scare people into returning to the truth do not work. People need patient, gentle correction to put them back on course. Imagine a close friend was divorced and remarried without an annulment. You wouldn’t try to scare them with strong words like, “You’re going to hell if you don’t change your ways!”. Instead, you would try to understand why they made that decision, explain how their life doesn’t fit Church teaching, and give suggestions for improvement. All this would be done with patience. Rushing just frustrates people. Without patience, you only push them further away, possibly never to come back again. This is what faces the whole Church, both clergy and lay people.

38-1 Nowadays we are grateful too for the witness of marriages that have not only proved lasting, but also fruitful and loving.

Continuing my commentary for 36 above, those entering into marriage can easily be discouraged by the early trials. The critical time when the initial romance wears off sets the tone for the rest of the marriage. If the newly married have the support of couples whose marriages have stood the test of time, they will have a much higher chance of success. Experienced couples have wisdom and knowledge about how to make a marriage work. They can make a huge difference in the success of newer marriages. This is something I hope the Church leadership will call for more in parishes.

38-2 Yet we have often been on the defensive, wasting pastoral energy on denouncing a decadent world without being proactive in proposing ways of finding true happiness.

All Catholics are guilty of this. We see the ideal and then see how far away others are from that ideal. We can develop a habit of criticizing others or only talking about the bad. It’s true that Catholics are called to admonish the sinner, but we are also called to feed the sick and clothe the naked. Most times, admonishment should be between family and close friends, not strangers. Even then it shouldn’t be the only thing you do with friends and family. People follow positive people. If we are always negative, we can never lead anyone to God.

Having said this, the only way to improve ourselves is to identify problems, find solutions, and implement the solutions. Jesus said he came not for the righteous but for the sinners (Lk 5:32). The righteous were already doing good. It was the sinners that needed help. They cannot be helped without ignoring their sins. All this is to say we need to be positive and hopeful in our admonishment. In any correction, focus on the end result of peace, happiness, joy, and true love. When people can see the result, they are more than willing to make the necessary yet painful sacrifices.

Don’t say, “You better not do that or God will punish you.” Instead say, “I’m not so sure that’s a good idea. I think you’ll be happier if you do this instead.” In some cases you might take things a step further with, “I’d love to help you with this. Just let me know.” You are taking on a sacrifice to help them, but sometimes knowing someone is there for them is just what they need to take the first step.

Read the other parts:

May the Lord guide you on your faith journey,

My Favorite Saints

Throughout history the lives of saints have became great examples of holiness for us. Since every person is unique, every saint has their own unique personality, traits, successes, and struggles. Because of this, every person has saints they will identify with more than others. The beauty of asking the saints to pray for us is that they can pray even when we cannot, whether it be during sleep, because we forgot, when we’re too busy, or any other reason. A few years back, I did some research and got a list of saints that could understand my struggles and know best what I need from God. Now I ask them most days to pray for me. Below are my favorite saints and the reasons I picked them.

Mary, Mother of God

  • Purity/Holiness: Most Catholics pray to Mary so this shouldn’t be surprising. Next to Jesus, she is the only human without sin. I really look up to Mary’s purity. While I am doing fairly well fighting sin these days, that wasn’t always the case. I used to love sins like obsessively playing video games and staying up late every night. Mary’s example inspires me to love goodness and hate sin.
  • Obedience: Mary had the huge responsibility to raise Jesus, doing her part to follow God’s plan. While God’s plan for my life is not as important, he still does have a plan. I need to obediently follow his plan just as Mary did.
  • Suffering: When Jesus suffered on the cross, Mary also suffered. Like Jesus, she had no guilt and could have gone straight to heaven but instead chose to follow her Son and die. Mary has an intimate knowledge of suffering and death, so she understands what I’m going through whenever I have to suffer.
  • Closeness to God: Mary was with Jesus at both the beginning and end of his life, so there is a deep connection between them. She is much closer to Jesus than I am. In praying to Mary, Jesus’ own mother is praying for me. Our Queen-Mother wants to pray for us and make requests of the King, if only we will ask.

St. Joseph

  • Purity/Holiness: St. Joseph wasn’t perfect and without sin like Mary but still led a very good life. Because I am a man, I can relate to him more than Mary. Whenever I am not sure how to be a holy man, I can ask him to pray for me.
  • Obedience: Like Mary, St. Joseph had a particular strength in obedience to God’s will. When God told him (through the angel) to continue with his marriage to Mary despite her pregnancy, Joseph obeyed. That required a lot of trust in God. Joseph had first hand experience with obedience and trusting in God, so his prayers can help me to obey and be able to trust God.
  • Perfect Husband: While Jesus is the perfect man, he did not marry. Our example of the perfect husband is thus St. Joseph. He showed how a man should treat a woman, not as property or an object but as priceless child of God. He showed how a man should raise children, especially education in the faith. I am not married and don’t have children, but I want to always show the utmost respect towards women and always be a good example towards the children I encounter. If I find myself called to marriage in the future, St. Joseph will be even more important.
  • Chastity: Even though Mary and St. Joseph were married, they lived in continence. They dedicated their lives to Jesus by practicing abstinence so that no other children would distract them from doing their best for Jesus. As a single man, I have to deal with the normal attractions all men deal with, but I also have to practice abstinence to remain chaste. It is good to have St. Joseph praying for me when I have temptations.

St. Aloysius Gonzaga

  • Suffering: St. Aloysius suffered a lot during his life with kidney disease, skin disease, headaches, and insomnia. He also had to suffer with the plague that eventually took his life. Despite his sufferings, he always did his best. While my sufferings are probably not as bad as St. Aloysius’ sufferings, I do suffer a little most days. Just like him, I have to do the best I can even when I feel bad.
  • Purity/Holiness: St. Aloysius’s had the gift of purity of heart. There was a certain innocence in him from a young age. No doubt the suffering he endured strengthened the virtue of purity within him even more. Though I did sin as a child, I noticed a certain innocence in myself at a young age, finding it easier to follow the rules than other boys. In addition, I have learned my suffering is a way to grow in holiness.
  • Service: St. Aloysius was constantly pushed and pulled between what his family wanted and what his superiors in the order wanted, but he always found a way to serve wherever he was. Many days, I feel pushed and pulled by the world around me and my health but do my best to fit service in whenever I am able.
  • Asceticism: At a young age, St. Aloysius chose the ascetic lifestyle (living simply). Living a simple life is one of my big ideals. Things may change if I am called to marriage, but as long as I am single, I will doing my best to keep my focus on God and not on material things.

St. Therese de Lisieux

  • Suffering: St. Therese suffered at her birth, at her death, and much in between. She was born with enteritis and died from tuberculosis. She suffered anxiety from being bullied at school and depression over her mother’s early death. I suffer with anxiety and digestive problems, two things this saint also dealt with. My sufferings are not as great as hers, which makes her an inspiration and good saint to ask prayers from.
  • Humility: St. Therese was one of the most humble people you could meet. She never took credit for anything she did, always pointing people back to God. I am pretty good at being humble towards people, but sometimes I get into a bad habit of thinking I know more than others. This is a side effect of studying the faith and becoming holier, but I need help fighting this pride.
  • Charity: St. Therese loved others so much, she sought out the people that treated her the worst and loved them even more no matter how they treated her. Like St. Therese I have a giving heart. I am most happy when I am giving to others. It’s something I discovered early in college but never acted on for many years. I ask St. Therese to pray that I stay on the holy path of giving to others. If I can maintain this, I will always be happy.

St. Margaret of Cortona

  • Transformation: In St. Margaret I see a great transformation between sinner and saint. At a young age, she got involved with a lot of men for attention and gifts and soon became a noble’s mistress. After finding the noble murdered she was so shocked, she gave up her evil life and eventually built a new life serving the poor and sick. My life doesn’t have the extreme evil and good of St. Margaret’s, but I did go through my own transformation. One day I felt the call of the Holy Spirit to be a holy man and become a saint. My life now compared to 15 years ago is totally different, a complete transformation.
  • Service: St. Margaret built a hospital for the poor and sick and served for decades. I probably won’t do anything as great as this saint but definitely want to do my best to live a life of service to God and others. There have been several times I got out of the habit of service. I need help from St. Margaret’s prayers to always be serving.
  • Penance: St. Margaret felt so bad about her actions, after her transformation she constantly sought to do penance, many times in extreme ways. My past sinful life wasn’t as bad as hers, but I still feel bad about how I acted in many parts of my life. Now in my prayer and writing, I work to lead others away from sin and to holiness.

St. Thomas Aquinas

  • Study of the faith: St. Thomas had a very sharp mind. He understood complex things easily and also knew how to explain them in simple ways that anyone could understand. This is what I seek to do with my writing. I am always hoping that something I write will be just the thing someone needs to understand the faith and grow.
  • Chastity: Early in his life, St. Thomas’ family tried to stop him from going into religious life by seducing him with a prostitute. The saint was steadfast in praying for chastity and God answered by making him immune to all temptations of the flesh the rest of his life. As a single man, I have to deal with these temptations most days. I have a lot of experience fighting them now, but I can always use more help.
  • Surrender to God: In his last years, St. Thomas experienced a powerful vision that changed his whole outlook on life. He suddenly lost all motivation to complete his life’s work, the Summa Theologica. Just like St. Thomas, God is in control and can always lead me in a completely different direction than I expected. I need to be ready to accept whatever God wills for my life.

St. Augustine of Hippo

  • Study of the faith: As a Doctor of the Church, St. Augustine wrote and preached many foundational elements of the Catholic faith. I won’t be doing something like that, but I do want to be motivated every day to keep studying and learning about the faith. The more I learn, the holier I will become myself, and the more I can teach others.
  • Chastity: St. Augustine really struggled with chastity as a young man. He had several mistresses and famously asked God “Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet.” I haven’t had as much trouble with this as St. Augustine, but I do have to fight temptations a few times each day.
  • Asceticism: St. Augustine came from a wealthy family. He lived a life of luxury and spent a lot of money. After his father’s death, he gained a large inheritance. However, he gave it all up to focus on serving God. I have never had much money, but I still deal with the little tug to be selfish every time I think about giving money. I need help ordering all my desires towards God.

God bless you,

2017 Examination of Ideals

It’s time for my 2017 Examination of Ideals. Like all years, 2017 had ups and downs. This year didn’t end up how I expected in both good and bad ways. I didn’t make much progress with my ideals, and in some areas I even went backwards. That’s the bad. The good is that I grew so much closer to God, I have a much better idea what he wants me to be doing. This means change is in order. I will be moving away from this set of ideals and replacing it with a new set that fits better with where God is calling me. See the end for more details.

For full descriptions of each ideal, refer to my Personal Catechism.

Prayer Ideals
1.1: I should pray to God as if He was my best friend. Grade: 5/5
I thought my relationship with God was strong last year, but it became even better this year. I have grown so much in the last year, I frequently take little leaps of faith trusting that God will make sure everything works out.

1.2: I should listen to God. Grade: 3/5
Other than a couple months, I didn’t do a good job listening to God. I did pretty well following his commandments and Church teachings, but I wish I had spent more time in silence with God. My trust in God has reached a point where I will follow him almost anywhere, so one of my big goals for 2018 is discerning a vocation. I don’t know if my health is even good enough for any vocation, but I am willing to try for God.

1.3: I should pray informally throughout the day. Grade: 3/5
I did really well at this around 4 or 5 months of the year, but the rest of the time I was poor at praying during the day.

1.4: I should pray formally once a day. Grade: 4/5
I was able to improve in this. Most of the year I prayed twice a day, morning and evening, but there were a couple months I skipped prayer entirely, a big mistake that caused me a lot of suffering.

1.41: My formal prayer should be productive. Grade: 3/5
Most of the year I did well at getting up on time to have room for prayer and stopping everything early enough to have time for prayer before bed. There were 3 or 4 months I was not doing this though.

1.42: I should include the Bible in my formal prayer. Grade: 5/5
I was able to maintain this practice again in 2017, so another perfect score.

1.5: I should pray the Rosary once a day during Lent and once a week during the rest of the year. Grade: 3/5
I got better at going to bed on time, so I did better at praying the Rosary. However, there were still a couple months I didn’t pray at all plus a few more months I had to say a shortened Rosary to get to bed on time. I know I can improve.

1.6: I should spend time each week with the Blessed Sacrament during Lent. Grade: 0/5
I again didn’t start this ideal, but it might be possible this year. My health is doing better most days of the week. However, I am not interested in making a new commitment while I am still discerning. Once I know better what God is calling me to, I will be able to decide how and when to add this ideal.

1.7: I should go to confession once a month. Grade: 1/5
I wasn’t able to add this ideal to my life, only going during the normal Advent and Easter seasons. My health just wasn’t good enough last year for an increase. My health is doing a little better now though, so I might finally be able to do this.

Study of the Faith Ideals
2.1: I should recite the common prayers, the Church prayers, and the Rosary prayers from memory once a day. Grade: 4/5
Other than a couple months, I did this every day in 2017.

2.2: Once a day I should read a Catholic article. Grade: 3/5
I moved away from reading a Catholic article this year. It had started to feel like a chore. I replaced it with working on an indulgence each day. I found it a lot more meaningful to help souls in purgatory. I scored myself a 3 though because I did a lot of reading anyways for my writing this year. It may not have been daily, but I definitely read a lot this year.

2.3: I should read about the feasts on feast days. Grade: 0/5
This is another ideal that felt like a chore, so I don’t know if I will be following it. However, there are some indulgences for special days of the year that I might try to put on my calendar. It’s not the same thing but similar.

2.4: I should read a few chapters of a Catholic book each week. Grade: 3/5
Like last year, I did a lot of reading during Lent, but not much outside of that. I wasted a lot of time during the summer. In the fall, I chose to focus more on prayer to get my relationship with God back to where it should be.

Teaching of Others Ideals
3.1: I should teach through my words. Grade: 3/5
At the beginning of the year, I had a big goal of writing an article each week, but I got burned out by the end of Lent. I returned to writing in the fall, so I somewhat salvaged things. Overall, it was an improvement. I have some exciting things to write this year, but they probably won’t be finished until the second half of the year. I still want to do stuff in person one day, but my health is not there yet.

3.2: I should teach through my actions. Grade: 4/5
I feel I became even holier in 2017 than I was in 2016. I became closer to God than ever before and his perfection rubbed off on me a little. I still have sins and virtues to work on, but I am very happy how I ended up.

3.3: I should teach friends and family. Grade: 2/5
I have a hard time with this one because I mostly only talk to my parents. Them being my elders makes it hard for me to justify teaching them very often. There were a few times, but it didn’t happen very often. I don’t have any friends these days, so I didn’t have anyone else to teach.

3.4: I should teach acquaintances and strangers. Grade: 1/5
My health is still in the way from real progress in this one. I did a lot of work writing online, but I’m sure I could make a bigger impact in person. My health is doing well enough to at least try some things in person if God calls me to do that, but that won’t be until after several months of discernment.

3.5: Whenever someone asks what I did over the weekend, I should always mention attending Mass. Grade: 0/5
This used to happen a lot when I went to the bank, but I rarely go now because of direct deposit. I don’t remember ever being asked what I did over the weekend. I am keeping it at a 0 because I probably wouldn’t remember to mention mass even if I was asked.

3.6: It is sometimes okay to be silent. Grade: 5/5
Silence is always easy for me as an introvert, so I got another perfect score.

Service Ideals
4.1: I should address the greatest need with my donations. Grade: 0/5
I wasn’t able to donate in 2017 just like 2016, but this year will be different for sure. I have enough money now. I am excited to finally be able to contribute.

4.2: I should donate to charities that are in line with Catholic teaching. Grade: 5/5
I’m giving myself a 5 because I’m sure any donations I would have made would have gone to charities in line with Church teaching.

4.3: I should give a 10% tithe per month to the Church and other charities. Grade: 0/5
I didn’t donate anything this year, so it’s another 0 score.

4.4: I should serve at least 6 hours per week. Grade: 3/5
I was able to increase my prayer and writing in 2017, but I wasted several months during the summer. Also, I still didn’t get to do any service in person.

4.5: At least one week per year, I should participate in a special service opportunity that uses a lot more time. Grade: 0/5
Just as I predicted, I wasn’t able to do any special service this year. I am expecting that to be the case in 2018 as well because my goals don’t leave much time for anything else.

Work Ideals
5.1: I should always do a hard day’s work. Grade: 2/5
There were 3 or 4 months, I was not doing a good job going to bed on time and getting up on time. That meant I was rushing to get the same amount of work done in less time. I was also frequently tired at work, reducing my productivity. I can do a lot better in 2018 and expect to.

5.2: I should not become obsessive about work. Grade: 5/5
A big help this year is that my work was steady. I was never surprised by a giant project like last year. I was able to stop work on time and relax pretty well most days.

5.3: I should take breaks during work. Grade: 4/5
I did well at taking breaks most days, but they were sometimes delayed because I got up from bed too late.

5.4: I should finish work before leisure. Grade: 3/5
I did worse this year due to impatience. While waiting for the computer to load, I frequently opened up a website to read an article. Then I’d see another article I wanted to read, and so on until I had wasted an hour. I got into a much better productive state by the end of the year, but I did worse than I should.

5.5: I should find happiness in my work. Grade: 4/5
I did well in this ideal, both with paid work and chores. With paid work, I actively worked on learning more about the things I do. With chores, I got into a habit of infusing prayer to make them all offerings to God.

Health Ideals
6.1: I should eat 3 meals a day. Grade: 3/5
I again delayed lunch many days, but this year it only lasted about 4 months. The rest of the time, I was pretty good at stopping for lunch on time.

6.2: I should eat one serving of fruits or vegetables with every meal. Grade: 2/5
Due to my stomach problems, I can’t eat as much as I used to. This means I usually don’t have enough room for a fruit or vegetable at each meal. Instead, my goal was to eat 2 fruits or vegetables over the whole day. I did pretty well getting it to 1 each day, but never had a good habit of 2 each day. I improved but I could do better.

6.3: I should get at least 8 hours of sleep every night. Grade: 3/5
I did well about 7 months of the year. The rest of the time I was staying up too late and losing sleep time. This is another area I improved but could have done better.

6.4: I should give myself enough leisure time. Grade: 3/5
I became sort of a workaholic the first 5 months of the year, but after that I did very well at making time for leisure and relaxation.

6.5: I should do 150 minutes of aerobic exercise per week. Grade: 4/5
I did much better with exercise in 2017. Most of the year I was doing the right amount of exercise. There were a couple months I didn’t keep up with it though.

6.6: I should lift weights 3 times per week. Grade: 4/5
Due to my health, I found it easier to do several light workouts rather than just a few hard workouts. I increased my weightlifting to 5 times per week but only half as many exercises. I did this all but 2 months, so it is a good improvement.

6.7: I should see the doctor at least once a year. Grade: 5/5
As always I had to see the doctor for prescriptions, so I met this ideal by default.

6.8: I should see the dentist at least once a year. Grade: 5/5
I didn’t have the money to go to the dentist in 2017. I don’t think I will in 2018 either because my money is going to other areas of my health. I might be forced to one day if I get a cavity or broken tooth, but so far my teeth have done well with good brushing and flossing.

6.9: I should see the eye doctor at least once every 5 years. Grade: 5/5
I don’t have to see the eye doctor for a couple more years, so I made this ideal by default.

Leisure Ideals
7.1: I should schedule my sleep time. Grade: 2/5
I got into a good habit until Easter. Then I got out of the habit until November. It was not a good year for my sleep schedule, but I am doing better now and expect to continue.

7.2: I should turn off internet-connected devices by 10pm. Grade: 2/5
This ideal correlates with my sleep schedule. When I don’t turn things off on time, I will usually stay up too late. That happened about half the year in 2017. I improved but can do better.

7.3: I should install an internet filter on all internet-connected devices. Grade: 4/5
In 2017, I started using a company-supplied computer for most things. I didn’t want to tamper with it in any way, so I didn’t install an internet filter. I am not having any problems with looking at bad things on the internet, but setting a good example is always good. If I go back to a private computer, I will make sure to use one.

7.4: I should avoid immoral movies or TV shows. Grade: 5/5
I did perfect with this ideal again. I don’t have trouble with this, so I expect to continue being perfect in this every year.

7.5: It’s okay to waste some leisure time. Grade: 3/5
I did a little worse in this ideal because the first 5 months of the year, I was really strict about my prayer and writing every evening. I was trying to do too much. It was like working 12 hour days. I did much better in the summer and found a nice balance by October.

Money Ideals
8.1: I should spend no more than $100 per month on leisure. Grade: 4/5
A few months I spent more than this, but most of the year I spent nothing on leisure. It averages  out to less than $100, but I need to be more consistent.

8.2: I should save at least $100 per month for retirement. Grade: 0/5
I would have enough money in 2018 for this, but my focus is on charitable donations. I want to make up for the years I didn’t donate anything, so I’m putting off retirement again.

8.3: I should save at least $100 per month for emergencies. Grade: 3/5
I didn’t really save for emergencies, but I did pool extra money to pay for more health treatment in 2018. My health isn’t extremely urgent, but it does limit my activities, so I kind of consider it an emergency.

8.4: I should donate any money earned over $30,000 per year to charity. Grade: 5/5
My income was again less than $30,000, so I didn’t have to worry about this ideal.

Year 2017 Statistics

Chapter Name Lowest Grade Highest Grade Average Grade
Prayer Ideals Ideal 1.6 (0/5) Ideal 1.1 & 1.42 (5/5) 3.0/5
Study of the Faith Ideals Ideal 2.3 (0/5) Ideal 2.1 (4/5) 2.5/5
Teaching of Others Ideals Ideal 3.5 (0/5) Ideal 3.6 (5/5) 2.5/5
Service Ideals Ideal 4.1, 4.3 & 4.5 (0/5) Ideal 4.2 (5/5) 1.6/5
Work Ideals Ideal 5.1 (2/5) Ideal 5.2 (0/5) 3.6/5
Health Ideals Ideal 6.2 (2/5) Ideal 6.7, 6.8 & 6.9 (5/5) 3.8/5
Leisure Ideals Ideal 7.1 & 7.2 (2/5) Ideal 7.4 (5/5) 3.2/5
Money Ideals Ideal 8.2 (0/5) Ideal 8.4 (5/5) 3.0/5
Overall Worst: Service Ideals (1.6/5) Best: Health Ideals (3.8/5) 2.9/5

All Time Records
Worst Chapter: Service (1.4/5) in year 2016
Best Chapter: Tie between Work in year 2016 and Health in 2017 (both 3.8/5)
Worst Overall Average: 2.76/5 in year 2016
Best Overall Average: 2.98/5 in year 2015

How I Graded

I did better than I expected with my ideals in 2017. There were some months I wasn’t working on them at all, but when I look at the whole year, I actually did better. My overall score this year (2.9/5) ended up being just below my best overall score (2.98/5) set in 2015. I am happy I did so well considering the big changes that happened this year. Prayer is still doing well this year. Service remained my worst ideals because I am still unable to serve out of the house. Teaching of Others also suffered for the same reason. I got a little worse in Work ideals because of laziness. At least my Health ideals improved. Despite doing better in 2017 compared to 2016, I am moving away from these ideals.

When I originally wrote these ideals, a lot of them were not really mine. They were things I had heard or read about from others as things good Catholics do. I thought if I wanted to be a good Catholic, I needed to do these things. Some of them were my own ideas but probably half of them were “best practices” I wanted to follow. Now with more experience in the faith, I know the most important thing is my relationship with God. To this end, I am creating new ideals tied completely to this one aspect of my life.

There is a lot of work to do so it’s not going to be soon, but it’s going to be a lot better for me in the end. I also think these ideals may help others, so I will be writing this for anyone, not just myself. I expect to continue my yearly examinations, but all future ones will all be based on the new list of ideals.

The Easy Yoke

I’ve written before how tough times can either make a person better and closer to God or worse and further from God. This is the decision I faced when my health went downhill. As I developed social anxiety, digestive problems, and several other health problems, I suffered more and more. My health was not looking good. Without seeing anything in the world able to help me, I made the decision to become better and focused on God.

First was the complaining:

“God, you have to help me with this. I need healing. I can’t do anything with these health problems.”

After a few years came acceptance:

“God, I don’t like my suffering, but you’re not going to heal me. My health is so bad I could die at any moment. I will follow your will and prepare myself for heaven.”

Another few years I reached gratitude:

“My God, thank you for the blessing of being able to offer my suffering as a gift for Jesus on the cross. I still don’t like suffering, but I thank you for giving me a use for it.”

Most recently I found joy:

“Glory to you, O Lord, for allowing me to do penance for the world. My God, whether you will that I suffer or not, I welcome your plan with all my heart!

As I went through these stages, I became closer to God. The big breakthrough was when I saw for the first time all the ways God loved me. God was expressing his love to me in unique ways just for me and no one else. While God had always loved me, it was only when I recognized his love that I was able to love him back and form a real relationship. I no longer cared much what others thought of me. I didn’t need anyone else’s love to be happy. God’s love for me was enough. With that the anxiety started to dissipate.

I still deal with social anxiety every time I’m around strangers. My body automatically becomes stressed even when my mind is calm and clear of worry, but most times, prayer, putting my trust in God, and offering my suffering dissipates the anxiety after a few minutes. Sometimes my anxiety does get out of control, but it’s pretty rare. I am still working on introducing myself to more stressful situations as well. It’s not over with but progress is being made. I will probably always have to deal with anxiety at the beginning of social situations, a temporary suffering before my body relaxes and I can have a good time.

Years of chronic anxiety and stress has caused permanent damage to my body though. This means my digestive problems, chronic injuries, muscle weakness, trouble sleeping, and more will not be going away, no matter how much better my anxiety gets. My suffering from these problems will continue, though I can work on treating each of them individually for some improvements. There is always the chance I could be completely cured, but I don’t expect that at this point.

My suffering rarely bothers me now. Some days I do feel pretty bad physically, but those days have their own blessing, patiently offering up my suffering for Jesus and the world. Despite the difficulty of getting through those days, this is usually when I am most close to God. As Jesus said in the Bible, “my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Mt 11:30). It’s not that my suffering is gone, but my closeness to God makes me so happy, positive, and joyful, suffering just doesn’t bother me anymore. In short, I will continue to work on treating the health problems and hope for an end to my suffering, but with God and his love, I can endure any suffering, put it to good use, and even be joyful about it.

May God bless you with his abundant grace,

Movie Thoughts: Miracle of Saint Thérèse

Miracle of Saint Thérèse is a 1959 Franch docudrama film directed by Andre Haquet and starring France Descaut in the title role. It is 92 minutes long (1 hour, 32 minutes). I had some free time during Thanksgiving and decided to watch one of the movies on formed.org, the new Catholic multimedia site. St. Thérèse is one of my favorite saints, so I was excited to see if the movie had any more details about her life.

Miracle of Saint Thérèse is pretty old-fashioned, all black and white with low sound quality. I think it is dubbed from the original French into English as well. Several times the words don’t match up with the actor’s mouths. Also, it is pretty obvious when they mute the sound to add the dubbing. In many scenes there are large periods of complete silence, very different from modern movies. I think the film would have been better with English subtitles rather than dubbed English voices. I prefer a more modern film, but I have patience. It didn’t really bother me.

In Miracle of Saint Thérèse, a narrator sets the tone and gives some background before major events like a documentary. Then the drama takes over with characters acting out the parts. There is more narration in the first half, which speeds through the years quickly, than the second half, which really focuses on the last few years of her life.

I enjoyed the detail in the second half. It was really interesting to see how the Carmelites live. There’s probably been some changes since then, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s very similar today. They have a strict rule to follow. It was especially hard for the fragile St. Thérèse, but no matter how much she suffered, she didn’t give up. In fact, she usually did even more than her sisters in spite of her weakness.

I wish Miracle of Saint Thérèse covered more of her early life. I read her biography on Wikipedia a while back and found the movie covered very little of her childhood. For example, Thérèse was picked on and bullied at school. The movie didn’t show any of her schooling. Also, she had a lot of problems with anxiety after her mother’s death, which the movie depicted as some unexplained illness. The point of the movie, I’m sure, was to help viewers grow in the faith, so it makes sense to focus on the later events of her life. These later years have the most teaching value.

Overall, I had a good time with Miracle of Saint Thérèse. It wasn’t perfect. I would prefer a more recent movie. For foreign films, I always like subtitles more than dubbed voiceover. The movie skipped a lot of St. Thérèse’s early life. These are all very minor though. It was worth the time I spent with it and gave me new appreciation for the saint. It reminded me again why she is one of my favorite saints. Her life helps me stay motivated to get things done even with all the little health problems I have to suffer through.

Book Thoughts: God’s Promises for You: Scripture Selections from Max Lucado

God’s Promises for You: Scripture Selections from Max Lucado is a 2005 book by Christian author Max Lucado. It was published by Hallmark Cards, Inc. My mother let me borrow this book during Lent one year, but I forgot about it. For probably a year, it just collected dust in my bookshelf. This year I decided to treat Advent as a mini-Lent, full of prayer rather than entertainment. That gave me time to finally read this book.

God’s Promises for You has 204 pages split into 10 sections, each with their own theme. Each section has 6-10 promises. The left side of the page has 3-4 Scriptures from the Bible. The right side has a short note by the author. The layout is perfect for a quick daily read in the morning. The notes are all taken from previous books Max Lucado has written, so this book can be seen as a launching point to many of his other books. It includes an Acknowledgements page at the end to help with this.

Max Lucado has some good points in God’s Promises for You. I already know most of it, but there are some things I hadn’t thought about before. The real value in this book for me is the list of Bible passages for each promise. I will be using it as a reference for future study and writing. I grew a little spiritually after reading this book and expect more growth with the future studies it will enable. Any book that helps with my spiritual growth is a good book in my opinion.

I think God’s Promises for You would be a good starter for anyone that has trouble reading the Bible on its own. The Scripture passages are collected under clear themes and each topic has some nice words to explain their significance. It’s a simple book though. Those that are well advanced in their faith may not get a lot out of it. Something else to think about is that this is a Christian book, not Catholic, but the notes are general enough the reader can interpret it in a way that fits their faith whether it is Catholicism or some other Christian faith.

For example, in one part the author wrote about asking for forgiveness from God and then moving on. Since he didn’t go into detail on what asking for forgiveness entails it can fit the Catholic faith. Catholics can interpret that to mean: say a simple act of contrition for venial sin, go to confession for mortal sin. Those of another Christian faith can interpret this note to mean: say a simple prayer asking for Jesus’ mercy and forgiveness. The text is general enough to fit both interpretations. In this way Max Lucado wrote a book that can apply to a lot of people. The downside is that he is unable to go into any real depth. So it’s a good starter, but hopefully leads the reader to further study.